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PRISON officers will face tighter restrictions on using incapacitating spray, after a disabled inmate took the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to court over the chemical restraint substance.
The move has been welcomed by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), which funded the challenge, but the Prisoner Officers’ Association (POA) said it was concerned staff safety could be compromised by the decision.
Former prisons minister Rory Stewart announced last October that so-called Pava incapacitant spray would be rolled out to officers across adult male prisons.
A pilot was launched at several test sites but the national roll-out was rocked by legal challenges.
Now the MoJ has announced changes to how the chemical can be used, including a requirement for prisons to monitor how often the spray is fired at disabled and black inmates.
The claimant, who is not named, has now agreed to end their legal challenge in light of the proposed changes.
It had emerged that the spray was being used disproportionately on younger people, black people and Muslim people, a trend which the MoJ was unable to explain.
EHRC chief executive Rebecca Hilsenrath said: “We believe that without proper protection and oversight, rolling out Pava would have left many prisoners vulnerable and in fear.
“We are pleased that the Ministry of Justice has recognised the need to take action to prevent the spray being used disproportionately on ethnic minority and disabled prisoners, and strengthened guidance that it must be a tool of last resort.
“We hope these changes will help to ensure that officers can protect themselves in a way that doesn’t jeopardise the fundamental rights of others.”
The claimant’s solicitor, Clare Hayes of Deighton Pierce Glynn, said she hoped “greater scrutiny will be brought to bear on incidents where Pava is drawn on or discharged against a prisoner.”
But POA national chair Mark Fairhurst commented: “Prison officers have always had to justify the use of force and it is only ever deployed as a last resort.
“Whilst we acknowledge that our prisons have a mix of disabled prisoners and those suffering from mental health conditions, everybody must accept that prison officers face the most hostile and violent workplace in western Europe and have a right to be safe at work.”
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